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The Anniversary (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Alison Monda, Alicia Mendez, Ivey Bronwen, Keiko Green, Tabitha Bastien

Written By: Alison Monda Directed By: Collin Joseph Neal

The Short Version

Whatever you’re expecting from The Anniversary, you’re probably wrong.

The Anniversary is not campy, violent fun; it’s a real horror movie.

It works in part because the audience has a chance to care about the characters first.

The screenplay gets to break the rules because the writer obviously knows what they are.

If you’re looking for well executed horror, The Anniversary is worth your time.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


A campfire staple.  Just don’t drop it in the flames.

Pairs Well With...


Whatever kind works for you as campfire nerve tonic.  Sip it for the first half; then get ready to take it down in punctuating shots.

“I always die in films.”

Run, Hide, Die - which I first screened and hereafter refer to as The Anniversary - is a dare put to film. Specifically, it dares you to pigeonhole it in advance.

Consider the premise.  Our protagonist, Addison (Alison Monda), has been something of a shut-in ever since her husband was murdered in their home after she’d stormed away from a fight.  As the one year anniversary of the tragic event approaches, she’s offered the use of a large cabin for the weekend as a means of getting away from bad memories and maybe even getting her life back together with the help of some friends.  Said friends think that sounds like a great idea, and so off they go on an hours-long drive to the deep woods, and, since we know what kind of movie this is supposed to be, a date with destiny.

We do know what kind of movie this is supposed to be, right?  You sure?

Whatcha thinkin’?  Maybe a riff on Prom Night with Friday the 13th set dressing?  Muscular dudes who may or may not have ever seen the inside of an acting school, ditto for the busty women, throw in some handicam wobble, red Kool-Aid, and a bunch of clumsy references to well-known genre classics?

Not even close.

The Anniversary takes all of the standard expectations and tosses them out the window like so much highway litter.  Though the writer (the aforementioned Alison Monda) and the director (Collin Joseph Neal) are clearly aware of all of the rules and tropes of the genre and happily incorporate them into the tale at hand, they – especially our scribe – are equally happy to break the rules and thumb their noses at the tropes whenever they see fit.  This is a gamble when it comes to horror flicks, because there is no other genre so heavily entrenched in its own formula than horror, and ignoring the rules is very often the surest recipe for disaster.  But you’ll note my choice of words there; it’s important.  The Anniversary does not ignore the rules; indeed, it acknowledges them at every appropriate turn.  Skillfully breaking said rules while demonstrating full awareness of them is not the same as ignorance.

Consider now our cast of victims in waiting.  They’re all women.  I don’t mean the horror standard of “one potentially sound female character with the rest being just cardboard cutouts with boobs,” either.  I mean real, reasonably thought out female characters with lives and backstories and personalities and stuff.  So if you switched gears from Prom Night to Sorority House Massacre, you’re still off target.  In fact, The Anniversary doesn’t fit the slasher mold at all.

Surprise!  It’s a real, honest-to-goodness horror movie.  As in “you don’t laugh when somebody dies” movie.  As in “you don’t feel very good when it’s over; you feel creeped out instead” movie.

Aw, yeah.

Making The Anniversary work as an honest-to-goodness horror flick requires the audience to actually give a damn about the characters (it’s the only way we’re going to feel bad once they start to die), so to that end, the script takes a very long time to introduce them and flesh out their relationships with one another.  How long?  The entire first half-plus of the film.  If this sounds like the recipe for a yawn to you, that’s just another one of those expectations that this movie is happy to dash.

Start with the script, which isn’t just savvy about the rules of the genre (I won’t tell you exactly how many it breaks, but I will say that along with basics, at least two of the allegedly inviolable ones go by the wayside), but also about the rules of normal human interaction.  There’s nothing phony about these people, so while they are indeed recognizable as archetypes, they’re not stereotypes.  Don’t dare class the most overtly sexual character in the film as “the dumb slut,” for example – she’s anything but, and she’d probably kick your ass for the insult while using big words to taunt you.  She, and everyone around her, plays as real human being, and because of that, it’s easy to relate to her and to them, which makes the horror that ultimately comes their way that much more horrifying.  It’s a basic rule of screenwriting, but it’s ignored so often in this genre that its implementation here seems almost innovative.

It also helps that these characters are portrayed by talented actors who take what the screenplay gives them and maximize it.  If any of the major players makes a mistake here, I missed it.  What I didn’t miss was a whole lot of outstanding work, especially from Alicia Mendez in the role of Indy.  How often does one get to say that about a horror flick?

The direction, by and large, seals the deal.  Start with a very creepy opening, check in with regular helpings of dark atmospherics while the characters get built up, and then when it all hits the fan, crank up the primal nastiness.  When it comes to the horror elements, Collin Joseph Neal’s got it down, but he also remembers to keep it from becoming too oppressive, and that dividends are paid by flashing back some of the quirkiness of the 80s and 90s and letting things get a wee bit lighter for moments at a time.  (Speaking of light, be sure to watch this flick in theatre-style darkness.  It’s best for the atmosphere anyway, and when the lights go down here, things get really dark, and too much ambient glare on your end is going to make your screen detail suffer.) 

Is this to say that The Anniversary is perfect?  No.  There are a few very brief moments where it tries too hard, and at least one where it does in fact jump the tracks.  (Food fight as a concept = all right.  Playing it in slow motion = um, why?)  But these and a few other little blips are minor when set against everything that The Anniversary gets right.  Indeed, another way in which the screenplay wins is how it deals with the logic problems that normally plague horror movies: head on.  A villain (for lack of a better term) openly admits that the very premise upon which everything bad that happens depends is contrived and even preposterous… which makes it that much easier for the audience to not question it afterward.  Meanwhile, the script is also very good at playing the audience in the best of ways: providing pertinent details that are easy to forget until the time comes for something to be sprung as one of those surprises that the writing told you was coming all along.  It also plays the give and take game of making the most basic twist visible from a thousand miles away so that many people watching will figure they got it early… and thus be shocked when the next few twists come down the pike.  Where was Alison Monda back in the 90s when Jason Voorhees desperately needed her pen?

So, is The Anniversary a good flick?  You’re damn right it is.  However, in an era where the term “horror” has often become synonymous with “violent fun with monsters or weirdos,” it is worth reiterating that this is not the feel good movie of the year.  This is horror meant to leave you creeped out and ill at ease.  There are indeed many fun moments to be enjoyed here, but the overall experience of The Anniversary is anything but fun…

…which is, for a story like this, exactly as it should be.  That’s why we call them horror movies, after all.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for something creepy, check out Ride, Hide, Die, also known as The Anniversary. [Can’t find it?  Try this.]

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2013

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


- copyright 2000-2016, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

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